After reading Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, I ended up buying three more books by the same author, Cost of Living, Swimming Home and Swallowing Geography.
Deborah Levy’s prose is mesmerizing and her writing style captivates your imagination. The story in Swimming Home is stark and a little disturbing. It reads like a play where two families are sharing a villa and when a stranger enters their lives, things become unsettling. Joe Jacobs or Josef Nowogrodzki, a famous philandering poet is married to Isabel, a nomadic war correspondent who is constantly away leaving him to take care of their daughter, Nina. They are holidaying in Nice with Isabel’s friend, Laura and her husband Mitchell whom Jacobs is not particularly fond of. Kitty Finch , a self-proclaimed botanist with green-painted fingernails is found skinny dipping in the swimming pool at their holiday home, claiming that she has nowhere to stay as Jurgen, the caretaker of the villa has made a mistake in his rental schedule. Isabel offers her the spare room in the house and as the story develops, she is actually a big fan of Joe’s poems and has written a poem herself. She very much likes the poet to read her writing entitled “ Swimming Home”. Kitty is beautiful, anorexic and she tends to wander around naked. To Madeleine Sheridan, an 80 year-old retired medical doctor who is holidaying next to the Jacobs and Mitchell, Kitty is mentally unstable. She happened to have come across Kitty in Cours Saleya four months ago before the latter arrives in Nice. ‘Their encounter was one more thing she wanted to add to the long list of things she wanted to forget.’
Joe suffers from depression due to his past. He had to flee Poland in 1942 when he was five years old, hence his name had to be changed from Josef Nowogrodzki. Isabel is a war correspondent and she has become someone she does not really understand. A powerful but fragile female character.
‘ She was a kind of ghost in her London home. When she returned to it from various war zones and found that in her absence the shoe polish or light bulbs had been put in a different place, somewhere similar but not quite where they were before, she learned that she too had a transient place in the family home. To do the things she had chosen to do in the world, she risked forfeiting her place as a wife and mother, a bewildering place haunted by all that had been imagined for her if she chose to sit in it . She had attempted to be someone she didn’t really understand.’
Throughout the story, the undertone is ‘ Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we’ll all get home safely.’
Kitty Finch says to Joe,
“ I know what you’re thinking. Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we’ll get home safely. But you tried and you did not get home safely. You did not get home at all. That is why I am here, Jozef. I have come to France to save you from your thoughts.”
Deborah Levy’s writing is allusive. Her prose has a dreamlike quality and it transfixes you with its subtext about gender roles, childhood, marriage and the demons that her characters must deal with.